Consistent individual behavioral variation: the difference between temperament, personality and behavioral syndromes

JRD MacKay, MJ Haskell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

20 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Ethologists use a variety of terminology such as “personality”, “temperament” and “behavioral syndromes” almost interchangeably to discuss the phenomenon of individuals within a population of animals consistently varying from one another in their behavioral responses to stimuli. This interchangeable usage of terminology has contributed to confusion within the field of animal behavior and limits the study of the phenomenon. Here we use a rapid, non-exhaustive and repeatable search strategy literature review to investigate where there were unique distinctions between these three terms and where there was an overlap in their usage. We identified three main areas of confusion in terminology: historical usage which is not updated; a lack of precision between different fields of study; and a lack of precision between different levels of variation. We propose a framework with which to understand and define the terms based on the levels of variation ethologists are interested in. Consistent individual animal behavioral variation relates to the different structures of variation of between-individual/between-population and between and across contexts. By formalizing this framework we provide clarity between the three terms which can be easily defined and understood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455 - 478
Number of pages24
Issue number3
Publication statusFirst published - 2015


Bibliographical note



  • Behavioural syndromes
  • Personality
  • Temperament

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